Citizens for Democracy
Reference for Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti
Date: 20th March, 2011
Time: 5:00 PM
Venue: Karachi Press Club
Shahbaz Bhatti was a man who ascribed to the vision of Jinnah, and was a strong believer of pluralism, freedom of religion and rule of law. With a few other citizens and government leaders, he founded the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), and was unanimously elected to lead this nationwide coalition of minority representatives and NGOs.
The alliance united over 500 minority representatives from across the country. They succeeded in convincing the government to replace the separate electorate system, described by some as “religious apartheid”, under which religious minorities could vote only for candidates of their own faith.
Mr Bhatti received many awards, but he can be best described as someone who worked in the the frontlines of activism. When the Christian villagers of Charsadda called him in fear of imminent attack from local extremists, he travelled to the north-west to be with them. When eight were killed and more than 100 houses destroyed in the Punjab town of Gojra in 2009, Bhatti , refused to leave the police station until the crimes were registered.
He was elected to the National Assembly in 2008 and assumed the role of federal minister for minorities affairs, now a cabinet-level position for the first time. He was the only Christian minister in the cabinet. While privately lamenting the distance his job placed between him and those he represented, Bhatti capitalised on his ministerial position. His achievements include a 5% minorities quota in government jobs, the first minority seats in the Senate and a 24-hour minorities’ helpline. He gained the respect of international leaders, as seen in the global reaction to his death.
Shahbaz Bhatti pioneered interfaith initiatives. He built bridges. He spoke at large mosques at the invitation of senior imams and eventually, in July 2010, secured a groundbreaking joint statement from religious leaders to denounce terrorism. He further launched a network of “district interfaith harmony committees” to encourage dialogue and unite communities through common concerns.
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